A patriotic catboat enters the inner harbor. Photo Tom Richardson

Elegance and history permeate the narrow streets and tight, deep harbor of Edgartown, the oldest and largest township on Martha’s Vineyard. First settled in 1641 by Reverand Thomas Mayhew, a man of God who respected the native Wampanoags as he converted them to a gentler form of Protestantism than that practiced on the Puritan mainland, the town grew and prospered as a seaport well into the 19th century.

As Edgartown’s sea captains grew wealthy through trading with China and harvesting whale oil on the seven seas, they built Greek Revival mansions on North Water Street and the starkly beautiful Old Whaling Church with its massive, simple columns that stands near the Dukes County Courthouse on Main Street.

When the market for whale oil declined and steamships replaced square-riggers, yachting and upper-crust tourism picked up the slack in the town’s economy.

Today the harbor attracts some of the most luxurious yachts in the world, while many of the captains’ homes have become well-tended summer residences. Some of the town’s historic buildings are open to the public as museums, while still others have found new lives as inns and hotels.

Edgartown Harbor is some 15 miles from the entrance to Hyannis Harbor and nearly 11 miles from Nobska Point at Woods Hole. The deep and sheltered inner harbor is formed by the channel between Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick.

Edgartown Light is an iconic landmark for boaters. Photo Louisa Gould.
Edgartown Light is an iconic landmark for boaters. Photo Louisa Gould.

Boaters should exercise caution when entering and exiting the inner harbor, especially near the harbor entrance, where 2 small ferries cross the narrows every 5 minutes. Boat traffic, particularly on weekends, can be heavy.

Dockage & Moorings

Berths and mooring space can be at a premium in Edgartown, especially during the high season, which is why visiting in the fall can be particularly rewarding. Overnight anchoring is permitted in the outer harbor only, east of red nun “8.”

The harbormaster’s office manages 50 moorings for transients up to 65’ and accepts advance reservations by telephone or online. Cost is $40 per night. Half of the harbor’s rental moorings are set aside on a first-come, first-served basis for 2-night stays. Oldport Launch provides service to the moorings and the anchorage, and the company can also arrange harbor tours.

Municipal dockage and short-term tie-up (hourly rate) is available for powerboats only at the Edgartown Finger Piers (look for the green-topped pilings next to the Yacht Club), while dockage at North Wharf is billed by the foot (50’ minimum). Memorial Wharf permits loading and unloading (10-minute maximum) between visits of the Pied Piper ferry from Falmouth. Contact the harbormaster for details. Mad Max Marina and the Harborside Inn also rent slips and dock space.

Exploring Ashore

Once ashore, you’ll want to check out the many stores and galleries along Main and Water Streets. In addition to maintaining a unique museum dedicated to the island’s culture, the Martha’s Vineyard Society has preserved several buildings along School Street, and also offers a self-guided tour of the town. Meanwhile, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust owns the Old Whaling Church and several other historic buildings, including the oldest house on the island. And don’t miss the stately Pagoda tree on South Water Street, brought home in a flowerpot in 1833.

Outside of town, you can visit many beaches and nature preserves, including the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, operated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge on Chappaquiddick. Mytoi, a 14-acre Japanese garden on Chappy, is also open to visitors. Bike rentals, taxi service and public buses facilitate travel around the Vineyard.

In short, there’s no limit to the ways you can spend time in Edgartown, but then again you may just want to hang out on your boat and soak up the beauty of this quintessential New England port.

Many folks love Edgartown for its laid-back vibe. Photo Louisa Gould.
Many folks love Edgartown for its laid-back vibe. Photo Louisa Gould.
Waterside eateries provide a great view of the harbor. Photo Louisa Gould.
Waterside eateries provide a great view of the harbor. Photo Louisa Gould.
The Town Dock attracts young fishermen. Photo by Louisa Gould.
The Town Dock attracts young fishermen and curious onlookers. Photo by Louisa Gould.

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